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Caring for Someone With Heart Disease

By Anna Nguyen
WebMD Feature

For almost half of their 54 years of marriage, Paul and Juanita Gagne have battled against his heart disease.

Twenty-five years ago, Paul Gagne, 77, was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, a disease that weakens the heart muscle. Last year, he received a type of mechanical heart support called a left ventricular assist device, or LVAD, to assist with his heart condition.

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As his primary caregiver, his wife Juanita, 75, performs a daily sterile dressing change where the LVAD line comes out from his abdomen. She does most of the cooking to follow a low-salt and low-fat diet, reminds him to take his medications, and goes to doctor’s appointments with him.

“I’m just happy to do it and that I still have him. You have to know in your mind that this is something you want to do, and set yourself to it,” says Juanita, a Grandview, Mo., resident.

Doctors play an important role in guiding patients and caregivers on how to manage heart disease. WebMD spoke with two cardiologists about tips and advice they offer to caregivers on how to take care of someone with heart problems.

Diet

Paul’s doctor, Tracy Stevens, MD, a cardiologist with Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart and Vascular Institute in Kansas City, Mo., recommends a general guideline of one protein and two colors -- fruits or vegetables -- for each meal. It keeps patients away from french fries, chips, and cheese, she says. Her other tips include:

  • Meet with a dietitian to design a customized plan that fits your particular heart condition.
  • Eat food without nutrition labels. This means less packaged, processed food and more fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Aim for lean meats such as chicken and fish. If a protein has a label, it is processed and preservatives such as salt may have been added.
  • Read labels carefully, especially paying attention to sodium. For a person with heart failure, too much salt could mean a trip to the hospital.
  • Try to avoid processed food, high-glucose foods, fried foods, and white carbohydrates such as white flour and white rice
  • Indulge wisely. Make sure the portion size is small. A pizza and dessert now and then aren’t out of the question, just as long as it’s not overboard on the sodium.

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